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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/147

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The hurricane, like an executioner hastening to his victim, began to dismember the craft. There came, in the twinkling of an eye, a dreadful crash; the top-sails were blown from the bolt-ropes, the chess-trees were hewn asunder, the deck was swept clear, the shrouds were carried away, the mast went by the board; all the lumber of the wreck was flying in shivers. The main shrouds also succumbed, although they were turned in and strongly stoppered. The magnetic currents common to snow-storms hastened the destruction of the rigging; it broke as much from the effects of these as from the violence of the wind. Most of the chain gear, fouled in the blocks, ceased to work. The bows and stern quivered under the terrific shocks. One wave washed overboard the compass and its binnacle; a second carried away the boat, which like a box slung under a carriage had been, in accordance with the quaint Asturian custom, lashed to the bowsprit; a third breaker wrenched off the sprit-sail yard; a fourth swept away the figure-head and signal-light. The rudder only was left. To replace the ship's bow-lantern they set fire to, and suspended at the stem, a large block of wood covered with oakum and tar. The broken mast, all bristling with splinters, ropes, blocks, and yards, cumbered the deck; in falling, it had stove in a plank of the starboard gunwale. The captain, still firm at the helm, shouted: "While we can steer, we have a chance! The lower planks hold good. Axes, axes! Overboard with the mast! Clear the decks!"

Both crew and passengers worked with the excitement of despair. A few strokes of the hatchets, and it was done. They pushed the mast over the side; the deck was cleared.

"Now," continued the captain, "take a rope's end and lash me to the helm."